MSI GK-601 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

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It would at first seem strange that a company like MSI would make mechanical keyboard. Computer enthusiasts and we at Legit Reviews are far more accustomed to seeing MSI motherboards and video cards, but when you stop for a moment and think, it’s not all that unusual for a computer manufacturer to design and sell mechanical keyboards unlike say rice cookers. Besides, GIGABYTE, another board maker, already has a mechanical keyboard, the Osmium, under its Aivia gaming peripheral brand.

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I can tell you right now that this keyboard is as stunning as it looks in the pictures. The GK-601’s appearance is modest, but subtly aggressive, and distinctively MSI. The GK-601 is one of MSI’s two new mechanical keyboards. The other is the CK Series which has a blue trim and fewer features than the GK-601. Both keyboards share the same 104 key layout, Cherry MX Red mechanical switches, key rollover, and multimedia keys via an Fn modifier key. What the GK-601 has that its little sibling doesn’t are individually backlit keys, programmable macros, five profiles supported by on-board memory, a braided cable, and USB and audio ports.

Cherry MX Red switches require the least force of the Cherry switches to press. The switch has a linear action and there are no bumps or clicks as the keys are pressed. This combination is the reason why Cherry MX Reds are considered to be “gaming” switches, though the relative ease to press these keys leaves Red switches the least forgiving Cherry switch for typing enthusiasts.

The MSI GK-601 can be found for $120 at Newegg and comes with a 1-year warranty.

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MSI GK-601 Features and Technical Specifications:

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Inside the box, the GK-601 keyboard is padded between foam blocks. Our keyboard arrived without a ding or scratch though I feel the protective packaging was a bit overdone especially compared to how other keyboards are boxed. For a moment I was looking around the empty spaces in the box in case I was missing something. Along with the keyboard, the package includes setup instructions, four yellow arrow keycaps, a keycap puller, and a software CD. Now let’s take a look at MSI GK-601 keyboard in all its glory…

Looking Closer at the MSI GK-601

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The GK-601 has a standard 104 key layout with dimensions of 18.1(L)x6.4(W)x1.2(H) inch / 460(L)x162(W)x30(H) mm and weighs 2.87 lbs (1300 g.) The keyboard enclosure is made entirely out of plastic though the heft comes from an internal metal plate.

For those unfamiliar with MSI’s other products, the GK-601 is part of MSI’s new GAMING brand. This keyboard’s appearance takes inspiration from MSI’s other flagship products such as the MPOWER motherboards which as of late have been using a yellow and black color scheme. Pictured below is the MSI Radeon HD 7970 Lightning Edition.

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The GK-601 features a braided cable terminating with gold plated audio and USB plugs. Behind the number pad is a USB hub with two USB 2.0 jacks and analog audio extensions. The USB ports are fully compatible with any USB device though take caution with high-powered USB accessories.

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A keypuller is included in the package for changing keycaps or cleaning the keyboard.

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Every key is backed by a Cherry MX Red switch and lit by an amber LED. To my eyes, the backlight color is most similar to the yellow-orange produced by sodium vapor lamps used in street lights.

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Included are four yellow keycaps to optionally substitute the WASD keys.

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The F-keys function as dual function keys in conjunction with Fn modifier key located between the right Alt and Ctrl keys.

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Like the media keys, profiles are triggered by pressing the Fn key with the corresponding F-key. There are no indicator LEDs telling which profile is being used, though a small on-screen message on the computer monitor will briefly appear when a profile is switched.

F12 has a dual-function to enable GAMING mode which disables the Windows key. GAMING mode is indicated on/off by a LED where the Scroll Lock LED is normally supposed to be. There’s nothing to lose here since Scroll Lock doesn’t do anything on modern PCs.

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The lighting levels and modes are controlled by Fn dual function keys in the numpad.

There are three brightness settings and the ability to pulse the backlight. The backlight can also be turned off.

Inside the GK-601

We’re always curious as to what makes up a mechanical keyboard and so we took the screwdriver to the back of the GK-601.

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Here’s a shot of the GK-601 removed from its enclosure.

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Positioned near the numpad is a circuit board that processes the keyboard macros and controls the USB hub.

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Towards the right is a GL850G USB hub controller chip. In the middle right next to the LED Caps Lock indicator is a MC9SO8JM16 microcontroller. To the left is a pair of 64 KB EEPROMs for storing the user defined keyboard macros and profiles.

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The switches are mounted to a steel plate, which acts as a ground and gives the keyboard its rigidity.

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The switch circuit board can be seen on the opposite end from the steel plate.

Configuration software and macros

The GK-601 will operate like a generic keyboard without the driver CD. The CD merely installs the macro configuration program.

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The main window consists of an image of the GK-601 keyboard and several menu options. Should you need help, clicking the Question Mark at the top right will bring up a mostly well written instruction guide on using the software. This is honestly not the most user-intuitive macro mapping graphic interface to use and so referring to the instructions would be a good idea.

There are five profiles and each profile can have up to 10 macro keys. Nearly any key can be assigned as a macro. Macros assigned to the F-keys will disable their Fn functions.

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To reassign a key as a macro, first an M-key along the bottom menu must be pressed. While it’s flashing, a key on the keyboard representation image can be selected to become a macro.

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Custom macros can be created for each M-key by first selecting MACRO from the drop-down menu. Then, press the RECORD button and type out your keystrokes. Press STOP when you are done. Delays and the ordering can be adjusted.

Options for repeating macros can be selected in the REPEAT menu.

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If you try to move to another profile for configuration, this popup will appear asking you if you would like to save any changes. You’ll have to excuse the poor wording of whoever wrote this.

Using the MSI GK-601 and Conclusion

The MSI GK-601 is aimed squarely at gamers wanting a mechanical keyboard. At the foundation of this design are Cherry MX Red switches, regarded by many as the best Cherry switch for gaming. They require little force to press and therefore allow game actions to be executed quicker. Then there are other gamer premium features MSI have tacked on. While the GK-601 doesn’t have dedicated macro keys or software that offers as much macro customizability as other keyboards, nearly any key can be reconfigured to execute a custom macro. The only keyboard we’ve seen that can reassign regular keys with custom commands was the ROCCAT Isku FX and that was possible with the use of driver “hack” with a ROCCAT Kone mouse. On top of that, the custom profiles are saved to onboard memory which is useful for traveling gamers. This keyboard well suited to the shooters and real-time strategies that are really popular right now and I can definitely see the GK-601 in the hands of MSI sponsored professional gamers. MMO gamers needing dedicated macro keys will have to look elsewhere however.

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The software needs lots of work. Not only does it look unrefined, it’s unintuitive to get the hang at first sight. Fortunately, the software’s help documentation is reasonably easy to understand.  Nearly any key can be programmed with a custom macro and that’s great if one is greatly interested in reassigning a key to type out a long script – “[To TEAM]: Enemy 6 o’clock. You owe me ice cream.” However, I feel there should be at least one more macro programming option: the ability to rebind a key to become another. What if I wanted the Tab key to aim down the iron sights, but the game won’t let me natively bind to the Tab key? The best the GK-601 software do is repeat that function over and over again which isn’t too useful when the sights are flying furiously between the hip and scope. What if I wanted to reassign a key with a standalone media key function? I’d like to see that too because I don’t like having to press Fn and F1 together just to mute my sound.

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So how does the $120 (Newegg) GK-601 compare to other premium $100+ mechanical keyboards? From a general standpoint, the GK-601 is lacking some features found on other keyboards such as dedicated macro keys, dedicated media keys, and a wristrest. The Logitech G710+ has all of that and most others like the Razer Blackwidow Ultimate have either one or two of those. While the MSI GK-601 doesn’t have dedicated macro keys, it handles programmable macro functions differently from the rest in a way that may or may not be useful to some gamers. MSI’s keyboard has everything else those keyboards offer: individually backlit keys, USB passthrough, and N-key rollover for antighosting. The GK-601 even has audio passthough for upfront access to headset plugs and comes with 1-year warranty.

Compared to other similarly priced premium Cherry MX Red keyboards, the GK-601 actually stands its ground extremely well. The GIGABYTE Aivia Osmium and CM Storm Trigger share most or all of the same features with the GK-601. When you look at the whole picture, the GK-601 is not worse than its closest competition, but it’s not better either. It comes down to whether the GK-601’s exclusive features fit your needs and if you like the way the yellow and black looks.

 

Recommended Award

Legit Bottom Line: MSI has done a fantastic job designing their first mechanical keyboard. However, the GK-601’s software could be better and given the MSI big reputation, that’s both unexpected and disappointing. On the flipside, the ability to configure nearly any key with a macro command makes the GK-601 a compelling option amongst other high-end backlit mechanical keyboards.